Set Etiquette: From a Makeup Artists' Point of View

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

Etiquette by definition is the code of ethical behavior regarding professional practice or action among the members of a profession in their dealings with each other. But what does Set Etiquette mean? Let's talk about Set Etiquette from the point of view of makeup and hair departments or artistic departments.

I think it is a concept that many artists don’t think about too much, either because they are self-taught or because it is not part of the curriculum at makeup academies. But whatever your training or level of experience, it is super important to comply with Set Etiquette—even though there is no specific instruction manual on the subject. 

I consider myself an old school makeup artist. I would like to give you some tips based on more than a decade of experience working with producers, directors and [incredible] crews. Remember that we are hired for our professionalism and expertise, so let’s behave professionally and ethically. Observing the etiquette and protocol on set not only speaks to the integrity, seriousness and commitment that you have as an artist, but it also reflects respect for your work, the project and especially your colleagues. 

So what should we do and not do while we are on set? 

Prepare your schedule to arrive at the set at least 30 minutes before your call time stipulated in your call sheet. This gives you plenty of time in case you get lost along the way, talent is available earlier than you thought, or there is a last-minute change in the schedule or change of location. If you are early, you will have enough time to prepare your work station without haste and drink that delicious coffee in peace. Please never ever be late. 

If you are new, introduce yourself to your peers. Always be ready to help, but without interfering in others’ work. Be respectful to other crew members. You are there to do your work, not to tell others how they should do theirs. 

Read your call sheet carefully to be clear about who is who on set to avoid embarrassment. Ask all your questions before the start of the shooting. For example, ask your assistant director (AD) where your makeup station or makeup trailer will be. Ask if there are any last-minute changes in the shooting schedule. 

Don’t get involved in discussions about the production unless you are asked. If the head of makeup department is talking to the director or producer and you are not part of the conversation, please do not assume that you are. Remain quiet and if possible; give them some privacy. Following instructions and working as a team is crucial. 

Be courteous, use your manners, and address colleagues with respect at all times. Use an appropriate tone of voice and avoid using profanity. Remember, it is a movie or commercial set, not a carnival. 

Dress appropriately, wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes and, unless it is a private client or you were hired as a company, you do not wear any clothing with your company logo. 

Avoid gossiping and complaining. Leave your problems and personal traumas at the door. You are in a workplace not in your psychologist’s office. Remember, no one wants to work with someone who is rude, gossipy, problematic or has a bad attitude. Do not argue on set. If a problem arises, solve it in a cordial way. 

Have all your materials handy. You should not need to ask for, borrow or take anything from other departments. You need to have your set bag with you because you cannot be back and forth to the trailer because you forgot something. Be efficient. 

Respect mealtimes and do not leave the set without telling your key makeup artist, AD or one of your co-workers where you are going to be. 

Use the lingo of our industry and if you don't know it then learn it before arriving on set, it will be of great help for you during the shot and throughout your career. 

As for your cell phone, the best practice is to turn it off while you are on a filming set. But if for personal reasons you cannot turn it off, please keep all calls, notifications, alarms and reminders on silent mode—not on ring or vibrate mode—to avoid distractions. You don't want to be responsible for ruining the shot and generating unnecessary production costs. 

Be extremely careful about social media. In today’s world, we are all immersed in social media, so posting photos has become a normal part of life. But as professionals in this industry, we need to bear in mind that taking photos without authorization can ruin your reputation, especially if the production is under an NDA [Non-Disclosure Agreement]. For example, you could destroy the launch of an advertising campaign that is not be aired yet. If you break those rules, the client will likely never hire you again. So, DO NOT take or photos, videos and much less put it on your social media without authorization. If you are authorized to take photos, wait to post them until the project is finished and has been aired or published. 

I understand that you need to make sure hair, makeup, and wardrobe (if you are working for a small production you do all of them) are looking perfect but ask first. Never and I mean NEVER look through the director's camera without asking first. It's a big NO NO

If the cameras are rolling for a test shoot, please do not walk in front of the camera and if you have to, let the cameraman know that you have to go through. Use your lingo. In this case you say loud and clear, “Crossing”. 

Do not run on the set, no matter how much of a hurry you are in. Remember that there may be cameras rolling and that the equipment around you is very expensive. Also, you do not move or touch any equipment that does not belong to you. You don’t want to be responsible for accidents or damage that could delay production or increase costs. 

Keep everything neat and clean at your workstation, don't leave your material scattered everywhere. The last thing you want is a lipstick or brush to end up on the scene and completely ruin it. 

Always keep in mind who is your client and who is not your client. If you are a freelance makeup artist who was hired to work directly by the producer or the production assistant (AD), your client is the production company or the tv station. On the other hand, if you were subcontracted by the makeup or hair key artist, then your client is the person who hired you and not the production company. In this case, the set is not the time nor the place to promote your services to the production company for the next project. Since you are working as a subcontractor, the client is not yours. The person who hired you got the client in this case. Have respect for the person who is giving you the opportunity and do not take advantage. Everyone knows each other in this business, so don’t burn your bridges. If someone asks you for your information, you can do two things: 1) tell her/him that the key artist has your information and that she would be more than happy to provide it. 2) ask the key if it is okay to give your info to the person who requested it. 

The purpose of the call sheet is to tell you where you are going, and when, as well as to convey information about the crew and cast, the nearest hospital, etc. But you should not take the crew or cast information and put it on your phone without authorization or contact them to offer them your “professional” services. 

Finally, each set has its own set of rules, follow them and that's it. If it’s a set where everyone is relaxed and easy going, then enjoy the stress-free environment, but do not forget that you are at your workplace and not at a party. Likewise, there are other sets that are more formal. I’m not asking you not to be yourself, but to respect your workplace, get to know your Set Etiquette, and follow the rules. Break a leg! 

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About the Author

Crisger Santley
Crisger Santley is a freelance makeup artist professional, licensed esthetician, and owner of Star Makeup Studio. For
the last twelve years, she has provided makeup artistry, skin care, and hair styling services to TV, film, print, and
fashion clients in the greater Washington, DC area. Her clients include Amazon, Deloitte, SoulCycle, Nike,
ESPN, Ion Media Networks, Disney, and much more. Also, Crisger has been volunteering for the last five years for
Look Good Feel Better Foundation teaching cancer survivors to do their makeup.

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